China's finance minister said he expected the Asian giant to grow at a clip of 7 percent this year, which would be below the government's economic forecast, the official Xinhua news agency reported Friday.

Lou Jiwei made his remarks Thursday at this week's U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue meeting in Washington.

"Growth of 7 percent should not be considered crucial," the minister said, nevertheless adding that "there's no doubt that China also could reach" the official target of 7.5 percent growth.

The Asian giant's GDP rose 7.7 percent in the first quarter relative to the same three-month period of 2012, although the pace of growth is believed to have slowed in the second quarter.

China's National Bureau of Statistics publishes its second-quarter data next Monday.

Lou acknowledged that the world's No. 2 economy had decelerated and attributed the slowdown to the fact that "structural reforms are bearing fruit."

According to the finance minister, the contribution of domestic consumption to GDP growth has risen, the employment situation "is good" and inflation "is not very high."

Growth of 7.5 percent would represent the smallest economic expansion in two decades, but Chinese leaders have shown a willingness to sacrifice short-term economic growth while pursuing a progressive restructuring of the country's economic model.

Comments from official and semi-official sources indicate the Chinese government would tolerate economic growth this year of as low as 7 percent. EFE